There’s been a lot of talk lately about MiFi’s and the impact they have on wireless networks. We have hotel properties saying they are within their rights to block networks other than the ones they operate and then you have FCC rules which kind of state you can’t really do that. This all seemed to start when Marriot was fined $600k for blocking portable hotspots from a convention center. The uproar this has caused has been amazing. Drawing lines between fellow engineers, friends, enemies while creating stronger relationships amongst the same. Recently Google, Microsoft, and others have decided to band together hoping to convince the FCC that hotels should not be able to do blocking of any sort.
But what really is the problem here? Is the problem the MiFi, the operator, the user, unicorns, what? Let’s first look at the impact of the MiFi devices on the overall RF space. We all know that channel contention is an issue and when we build a wireless network we strive to ensure that we have as little contention as we possibly can. We setup our RF profiles and Tx power levels to control cell sizes, we limit ourselves from using 80MHz 802.11ac channels, we do everything we can to ensure the best possible experience for the end user. So why does the end user give your network the shaft and turn on their MiFi trampling all over that nice RF you created? Is it because you have a firewall blocking ports? Probably not. It’s probably because you have a poorly implemented guest network that requires a captive portal which does little to nothing for you from a legal perspective. Or maybe it’s because you are charging for a service that should be free and rolled into the price of the hotel room, airport fees, etc. If you put shackles on your guest network expect people to break out their own devices that they control and will provide them access to what they need, their precious Internet.